Capcom showed off a near-final version of Street Fighter IV's arcade version at its recent Las Vegas press event. The game showed off the full roster of fighters, which includes the original world warriors, four bosses, and four new characters. Most importantly, the game featured the latest round of tweaks from the development team, which has been fine-tuning the game for the past few months. We tried out the single-player and multiplayer Versus mode to see if the game was continuing to deliver on the promise of its initial showing in February.
While the arcade game on hand at the event had all characters playable in single-player and Versus mode, there were some limits to how far we could go in the single-player mode. This was apparently done to preserve some surprises in the form of story elements and boss encounters. As a result, the single-player game booted us after a few matches and our first fight with one of the new characters. These new characters also appear to be minibosses, which you'll face on the way to the classic Street Fighter II bosses of Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison.
When hopping into the game, we noticed a few other modes selectable besides Arcade, the most intriguing of which was a beginner mode that will apparently serve as some kind of tutorial for new players. This should be a handy feature for newcomers or vets looking to become reacquainted with their staple players. We didn't get a chance to try the mode, instead spending our time getting up to speed on the fighters the old-fashioned way: getting knocked around until we got their moves and timing down.
Street Fighter IV's fighting system has been in a fairly perpetual state of tweaking since we last saw it at GDC. Feedback from US players and the test units that have made the rounds in Japan have led the team to refine IV's battle system quite a bit since we first tried it. Besides the expected timing tweaks, the team has actually changed subtle elements, such as character collision detection. The game has eschewed the more modern approach of handling collision between polygons for old-school collision boxes on the characters, which is more in line with the game's 2D roots. Throws are now performed by pressing light punch and kick at the same time. The new focus attack is tied to pressing medium punch and kick together. A quick tap gets off a quick focus attack that seemed to almost work like a parry. Holding down the buttons lets you charge up and unleash unblockable attacks. Taunting was tied to the hitting hard punch and kick buttons.
While some of the tweaking may sound odd, it actually worked well as we played. We tried a little of everyone to get a feel for their handling. Timing had definitely changed but, after a bit of practice, we started to get the hang of things. The old characters handle pretty closely to how they did in previous Street Fighter games. Vets will notice a variety of changes to specific damage and range on the light, medium, and hard attacks. And, it will require some getting used to these changes. We also noticed some speed changes on some fighters, with the most notable during our play time being Vega. While the masked, prancing Spaniard was still fast, he didn't seem to be his old self. Rolling attacks weren't quite as fast as we would have hoped, which forced us to play him differently. As far as the new fighters go, they felt a bit odd, with some even having a bit of a hybrid feel to them. Crimson Viper still feels a bit like an SNK character. Newcomer Rufus, a roly-poly ball of fury, has some interesting attacks that require a unique play style that emphasizes speed. Abel feels a bit like a faster Zangief but lacks some of the Russian's power (with some Cody from Street Fighter Alpha 3 thrown in). Latin chef and wrestler El Fuerte reminded us of Alpha 3's R. Mika was noticeable for his crazy throws and run attacks.
The visuals in the game are impressive--not so much because of some amazing displays of polygons and special effects, but more for their style. The characters all have sharp designs, with the classic crew featuring faithful updates to their original looks. The new blood has some slightly more contemporary touches, but otherwise they fit in pretty well. All the fighters now sport very fluid animation that isn't showy or intrusive to gameplay, giving combat a good feel. The backgrounds take the same approach and include updates to the classic scenery while adding some new ones. A key element now is the wealth of ambient animation you'll see, which keeps the backgrounds much busier than their 2D counterparts. The various special effects used for fireballs and the like have a much more stylish look to them, which still manages to hark back to the original. The super, ultra combos and ex attacks all get a touch of flair to distinguish them from normal attacks, which are one of many nice touches we noticed. Overall, the game has a nice sense of style that's got a much more cinematic flair than previous games, which is giving Street Fighter IV a winning layer of polish that agrees with us.
The audio in the game is almost as tightly crafted as the visuals. The various fighters yell out the usual battle cries, as well as taunts, while fighting. The action is framed by a mix of tunes that includes redone versions of classic tracks, as well as all new music. We liked what we heard of the game's soundtrack, thanks to the old and new tunes fitting in with each other well. The only weak spot right now is the game's announcer, which continues the unfortunate Capcom tradition (in recent years anyway) of using reedy-voiced actors. Yes, we still miss the bass-inflected announcer from Street Fighter II or even Street Fighter III. While this announcer doesn't grate as much as, say, the incredibly peppy guy from Street Fighter Alpha 3 or even some of the later Marvel fighters, we can't say we're fans.
To further work us into frenzy for Street Fighter IV, Capcom offered up some intriguing bits of info on what's being planned for the home version of the game. Capcom is adding proper animated prologues and endings for each character, as well as the expected network multiplayer mode. To whet our appetites for what to expect, Capcom showed off a bit of anime done in the style of the animation being done for the home version of the game. The sequence focused on Ryu, featuring Akuma, Ken, and his sensei. The animated segments are meant to shed light on the fighters and bring players up to date on what everyone's been up to, as the story is set between the events of Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III.
Based on what we played, Street Fighter IV is shaping up fantastically. The game looks and moves great. The detailed characters and smooth animations give combat a pleasing fluidity. Veteran players should enjoy digging into the combat, which is an accessible and challenging experience. The technical aspects of fighting may require vets to make some adjustments to their fighting styles with some characters, and the new characters don't quite fit in with the old-school fighters. We're not totally sold on the action being that accessible to newcomers to the series, but if Capcom can find a way to ease new combatants into the action, the game may have a widespread appeal. The only downside to all the news is that we're not officially getting the arcade release in the States, although we're willing to bet some machines will find their way over to a few spots, forcing most of us to wait for the home release, which is still a way off. Street Fighter IV is set to release this summer in Japanese and Asian arcades, with the game due in other parts of the world some time after.